Nagano Castle Update Part I from ART


Nagano Castle Update from ART Part I


Just when you thought there couldn't possibly be any more castles for ART to visit in Nagano Prefecture along comes another update of over 100 new castle profiles. Here is the first installment.


Akagi Yakata / 赤木館


Practically no ruins remain of Akagi-yakata; it is now the site of fields and some homes. To the south, perhaps fittingly, is the community hall for the village of Akagi, as well as the site of Takami-yakata. I took one picture showing where a moat may have ran. Related sites: Takami-yakata (Takami Yakata), Akagi-minamijō (Akagi Minami Castle), Akagi-kitajō (Akagi Kita Castle). I also took the opportunity to revisit Akagi-kitajō but it is now impossibly overgrown and inaccessible.
Ametoya Castle / 雨戸屋城

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The ruins of Ametoyajō consist of at least one principal bailey protected by horikiri (trenches cut into the ridge) on both sides. The complex of trenches to the mountainside rear are, in typical fashion, the most formidable. However, further along the ridge, and in the direction I came from, there are a series of flattened peaks which may have been used as auxiliary baileys. In truth it's hard to tell them apart from the natural form of the ridge, but a dobashi (earthen bridge) located between two of these pseudo-baileys is quite suggestive of their former fortification. It seems that many of the forts used to protect Aida were quite narrow in profile and sometimes poorly developed, and Ametoyajō is typical of this characteristic. To reach this site take the ridge at the crossroads where there is a trail just to the right when coming from below. I saw a ladder here with a hook at the top. There used to be a bell hanging there. It was used to alert villagers to fire. People used to live here on the mountain? It's incredible to think.
Anrakuji Yakata / 安楽寺館

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Anrakuji-yakata was the kyokan of Iwaharajō. It is named for the temple built there later, of which clear ruins remain, including a very large and impressive chunk of ishigaki (stone-piled wall). This mighty ishigaki, a corner segment, bulges dangeorusly on one side, however, and I fear a powerful enough earthquake could dislodge it. More artifacts of the temple are found in the neighbourhood, including old tomb stones and a relocated hōkyōintō (宝篋印塔), which is a type of stone stupa.
Aoki Castle (Azumi) / 安曇青木城

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Aokijō is a sort of Popeye of a castle. The ruins aren’t so big, but the rear is protected by a very large trench (at least ten metres deep) with a well-constructed dobashi (earthen bridge) spanning it to reach the main baily, which is also protected on that side by dorui (earthen ramparts). This incredible defensive feature seems very large for an otherwise small fort, and so in its proportions and power reminded me of that famous sailor’s forearms! The site otherwise features two integral baileys, terraced baileys on the northern ridge, and what may be a tatebori (climbing moat) or dug-out road with embankments to the south. Aokijō is quite the interesting little site.
Aoyagi Yakata / 青柳館

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The Aoyagi-yakata was the fortified manor house of the Aoyagi Clan, and, later, the kyokan (residential area) attached to the mountaintop castle of Aoyagijō. Yakata / kyokan / yashiki, residential compounds where the clan leader lived, can often be found at the foot of mountains. The actual fortification atop of the mountain was not usually lived in, but used in times of conflict (in a Sengoku Period context the 'bukeyashiki' may refer to this kyokan arrangement). The Aoyagai-yakata at the foot of the Aoyagijō castle mount is now the site of a temple, but this in turn has also been abandoned and is now in a state of dilapidation. The temple, sitting on terraced slopes, contains a main hall with a thatched roof, now covered up with sheet metal to forestall its inevitable decay, a shōrōmon (gate with belfry), and some auxillary structures which I took to be the former priest's quarters, a store house and outhouse, all very traditional but now regrettably falling to pieces. Behind the temple is a graveyard which includes interestingly shaped markers bearing family crests and names, which I assumed to be related to the historical persons of the locale, including the Aoyagi Clan. Whilst the terraced terrain may date to the yakata, the stone walls seen would've been piled for the temple. Also shown here is the village on the site of Aoyagi-juku. The village beneath the castle, Aoyagi-juku, served as a post town on a subroute coming off the Nakasendō highway (from Seba-juku) heading toward Zenkōji, an important pilgrimage site in modern day Nagano City. This shukuba (post station town) continued into the Edo period even after the castle was long abandoned. No original structures survive today, but many homes retain traditional architectural features and are rebuilt along the same plots of the former inns and shops of the village, and are marked as such by little tags near their doorways. The large dwelling with the elaborate gate and roof is a home reconstructed on the site of Aoyagi-juku's former Honjin (main inn, reserved for bushi). Furthermore, since the village is located on a slope which inclines up toward the castle, the plots are terraced with ishigaki which have an irrigation ditch which carries water down the slope built into them. In order to facilitate access to Aoyagijō and Aoyagi-juku from the direction of Zenkōji, the lord of Aoyagijō, Aoyagi Yorinaga, in 1573 ordered a cutting made into the ridge between two small mountains.
Aratoshou Castle / 荒砥小城

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Aratoshōjō is a single bailey fort and fortified annex of Aratojō. The main bailey is twenty metres at its widest and fifty metres long. It’s most prominent remains consist of a row of dorui (earthen ramparts) along the northern perimetre of the bailey. It’s quite remarkable that such dorui remains relatively thick and tall here. There is no dorui on the south side. Perhaps it would’ve been more important to protect the north since that faced away from the Yamada Clan’s territory, but I also note that a modern forestry road runs beneath this bailey on the south side, and so it may be that part of the bailey was demolished to construct the road.
Asaka Castle (Chikuma) / Chikuma-Asakajō

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Asakajō features ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts) piled for the castle. Like the site I visited before it, Koshikōjō, it has layers of history, but in this case the castle layer stands the boldest. The site is protected by fences to keep animals on the mountain. The gates in them were some of the most fiddly I've come across, roughly closed shut with chord. There is a signpost at Asaka Shrine indicating a trail to the castle, but it is difficult to follow. It basically goes to an awkward gate in the fence. Then there is just mountain. There is a better trail that goes up from a nearby temple, Hōanji. Either way it's not so much of a climb before the castle's lower reaches are found.

Asakajō may be said to have been built by grave robbers, since it was built over the site of an ancient necropolis. Materials from these tombs were dug up and re-used to construct the castle. There is a striking if unusual fortified space at the very start of the castle's precincts. It consists of a large 'L'-shaped dorui (earthen rampart) segment with stones lining the inside. This is thought to have been a space for mustering troops whilst screening them from the outside. It may have been constructed by hollowing out an ancient tomb.

There are several small, narrow baileys along the ridge as it climbs. A large horikiri (trench) has been cut deep into the rocky ridge, in effect forming a large stone wall. Both sides of this huge trench have dark openings. These are the gaping mouths of dead tombs. Interred within were kings and wizards so ancient that none now know their names. The ultimate destiny of their sepulchral houses was to be recyclced as castle defences. Another tomb opening is found in the main bailey where a large stone slab now stands erected.

The principal baileys of this castle consist of two baileys on the peak, with one slightly lower situated than the other, forming a stone-lined wall between the first and second. A third bailey is terraced beneath the second. It has a spur, checked by a trench which eats into the hillside, which goes beneath both the first and second bailey. This is a "hip bailey". I came through here first so as to appreciate the first and second bailey from below. Both of these baileys have ishigaki lining them. To my suprise there was a lot of ishigaki also beneath this hip bailey toward the furthest corner. This is a most spectacular area of the castle ruins. To the rear of the principal baileys is a gigantic trench. Ishigaki can be seen on the "castle side". "Mountain side" there are many more trenches cutting into the ridge one after the other. Two large trenches sandwhich a smaller one which is spanned by a dobashi (earthen bridge), creating a sort of 'H'-shaped configuration.

Asakajō is little known and difficult to find. Yet it has layers of ruins and mystery. The ishigaki and remains of kofun (ancient burial mounds) are a major attraction in visiting this site. In structure it is an examplar of the kind of Sengoku period forts found in central Shinano.
Asama Palace / 浅間御殿


Biwa no Yu (枇杷の湯, "Loquat Hotspring") is an inn and hotspring facility in the hotsprings town of Asama, just outside of Matsumoto city centre (and in Matsumoto Municipality). It is the successor to the Asama Palace (浅間御殿), a residence and bathhouse used by the lords of Matsumoto Castle. The Asama-goten was in turn built on the site of a medieval fortified manor hall refered to as Shironōchi-kyokan (城之内居館). No traces of the medieval ruins remain, but there is an Edo period mausoleum site nearby for the Ogasawara Clan. The bathhouse itself is open to day-trippers. I had a look around but only had time to soak in the atmosphere. I then went to visit the graves of the Ogasawara and was surprised to find ishigaki (stone-piled walls) that looked like a gate ruin. There used to be religious structures here in the Edo period. Lastly I went up to the mountain behind the site, (suggestively) called Goten'yama, just to check there for any possible sign of fortification, but there is only a kofun up there.
Chikatou Fort / 千鹿頭砦


At the back of the "Thousand Deer Heads Shrine (reading is "Chikatō-jinja")" is a horikiri (trench). When I saw it I immediately knew "by jove, this hill was fortified"! Of course, I was happy with this discovery, but I couldn't confirm what I had found until I could get home and research, since the horikiri was the only sure sign of the fort. The horikiri is bridged by a dobashi (earthen bridge). Above it, toward the rear of the shrine, the earth sweeps up, and this may have been a dorui (earthen rampart), an embankment, which has since degraded. The flattened space upon the ridge where the shrine sits is like a kuruwa (bailey). This particular mountain frond rises sharply before it terminates in a hill over-looking the plain. The shrine is in a shallower part of the ridge. I knew I had to climb up to the hilly terminus to check for ruins because if the lower portion was fortified then this hill must've been as well. This hill is the "Mazu no Miya" area, referring to the shrine compex, and the hill itself is the "Thousand Deer Heads Hill". I didn't have proper gear for a hike but the hill wasn't so high and there was a nice path up. There was no obvious sign of previous fortification except for that the hilltop has been flattened. This would be the forward bailey, one of two, then.

The preserved horikiri is at the very rear of the site, and I thought there may have been a shallower trace of a trench between the two baileys but it was too dense with vegetation on both sides to tell. In fact, the vegetation grew suspiciously thickest in these divots...

This adventure is a testament to a few things. Do not think that I am merely lucky; Shinano is dense with fortification sites no matter where one steps - at least near civilisation. And though I'm happy that I am experienced enough that I can immediately spot an obvious yamajiro (mountaintop castle) feature when I come across it, it appears that there are many hidden sites I haven't uncovered yet.
Fumimichi Castle / 文道城


Suddenly, out of nowhere, a castle tower!? There is a mogi (faux reconstructed) tenshu (keep) at the site of Fumimichijō, also called Kinasafurujō (Old Castle in Kinasa), and it may well just be the most well hidden mogi ever. That is fitting in keeping with Kinasa's feeling of a "hidden village" I suppose. Many people will find such local mogies when they see them from a distance, but the Kinasa mogi is hidden behind a thicket of tall trees and cannot be seen from below, plus there is lots of other terrain around so that not even the hilltop stands out. It's possible to come right by here, along the very road beneath the castle site, and never know of its existence. So it is a very special mogi.

The castle site is genuinely a historical ruin, but there's not too much to see. Castle features can be delineated, though, which is great. The castle essentially is narrow in profile following a ridge. There are two small principal baileys between the remains of trenches. In the lower of the two is a pit which I took for the remains of a well. There is a gazebo here. The site was developed as a park but it is no longer maintained. Even as one ascends to the main bailey there are many trees and it is not immediately clear to see beyond... what is that phantom flitting through the trees? The main bailey has a terraced sub-bailey beneath. Below this is a large, flattened area. Comparing it with the baileys above, there can be no doubt that this wide area is modern in origin, developed as part of the park. Coming clear of the trees we finally get a full view of the mogi.

The mogi is tripple tiered and slender, but is built to full scale. This essentially creates a very confined space within that functions as a glorified look-out tower. There is about a tatami mat's worth of space to stand at the top. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The park is no longer groomed, and the whole space surrounding the mogi is overgrown with tall grasses. Eventually I found the old stair way and made it down to the mogi's entrance. There is a sign here. It seems that following an earthquake in 2014 the building was condemned. It is unsafe to enter, but there is no lock, nor was there ever, with the public being free to enter at their will. Now the only difference is the sign saying the structure is unsafe and there is risk of collapse. I bore this in mind, but I had to look inside. Taking responsibility for my own decisions then, I found a structure covered in dirt and web, but not so long abandoned, with a rack of slippers for guests by the small entrance space. The wood neither seemed particularly old. But the structure did creak when disturbed. It was quite something to experience the very narrow structure. No historical structure that I can think of was built like this at a castle. A pagoda, perhaps, would be similar, but they were often not built to be ascended, and most don't have stairs.

Beneath the "park" is a wide tarmacked area with a building at the end, the Furusato Hall. It's convenient to park here. The hall is abandoned and swarming with hornets. This area was once, it is thought, a hall attached to the castle, and so the lord would've lived here, and not where the faux keep is. Realistically this small fort never would've been able to stand up to the armies of Takeda Shingen, which makes its fate the more tragic. An abandoned tower in an overgrown park overlooking a disappearing village? Who will keep its stories alive?
Furujou Yakata / 古城館

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Several of the yakata in the town centre of Ômachi have been developed over, leaving little ruins, but Furujō-yakata has segments of dorui (earthen ramparts) standing to this day. In the northeast is a corner segment of dorui and a raised platform of earth, now the site of ancestral memorial markers / graves, which may have been used as the base for a defensive structure. There is another small segment of dorui set to the east, projecting out the little, and this may have formed a gate complex. It is believed that a moat wrapped around the hall in the north, east and south - to the west is a cliff. The site today is mostly fields. 'Furujō' simply means 'Old Castle'. This site may also be called Matsuzakifurujō-yakata.
Futatsu Bungonokami Yakata / 二木豊後守館

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The site of Futatsugibungonokami-yakata is shared with the ruins of a temple, and I identified remains of thick and tall earthen ramparts around a shrine and adjacent residence here.
Futatsugi Castle (Azumi) / 安曇二木城

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I found the site of Futatsugijō somewhat interesting despite not identifying any ruins. There was a sign to designate the fortified manor site, which it called 'Futatsugi Castle', as well as another which indicated the site of a gate, so that was already more than I had expected. What was nice was that the site of the yakata is now that of a large, walled residence, and it was easy to imagine this old home as the rightful inheritor of the old Futatsugi Manor Hall. There were lots of large, traditional dwellings in this area so I had a nice – if brief – look around. Legend-tier castle bloggers have tentatively identified possible dorui (earthen ramparts) here, and old (but not that old) maps of the area indicate such castle features.
Gongen Yakata / 権現館


The site of Gongen-yakata, a fortified manor hall, is now a private residence, but some ruins of the structure of its defences remain. Specifically there remains dorui (earthen ramparts) and a karabori (dry moat) in one corner. In general the land is slightly raised above surrounding fields. In terms of local yakata sites this is actually a fair bit to write home about! Unfortunately the history of the site is not well understood.
Hieinoyama Fort / 比叡ノ山砦

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On a hill called Hieiyama which juts out into the plain a fort, Hieinoyama-toride, was constructed on the hill's northern limit. There is a bailey with some possible remains of dorui to the rear. At the south of the hill, toward the mountains, there is an ancient sacred area with a cave and pool; there are kofun (ancient burial mounds) in this area, as well as the ancient fortified settlement of Hiraide (the village has been partially reconstructed (see: Hiraide Moated Settlement)). I ascended the hill from Hiraide village, and I descended and came to Tokô village.
Higashijou Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩東条城

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Higashijōjō is in Nishijō, which is confusing. Or the nearest station is called Nishijō at least. More properly it is in Higashijō, and both Nishijō (西条) and Higashijō (東条) were part of Honjō (本城), a village-level municipality which since 2005 is now part of Chikuhoku (筑北), a larger village-level municipality in Higashi-Chikuma District (東筑摩郡). I think I'd be less confused if I didn't understand Japanese. Nishijō is the administrative centre of Chikuhoku-mura, but basically the whole municipality is just a series of small villages and countless hamlets. Nishijō itself is a quaint village surrounded by fields and mountains.

The ruins of Higashijōjō can be reached via a trail either from Hakusan-jinja, which is to the south and closer to the station, or via a route on the northern ridge. It's easier to take the northern ridge up and the shrine's causeway down, the latter being much steeper. Ruins related to the castle begin at the very start of the trail to the north.

Down a country lane is an old sign board about the castle and a direction post. There is also a marker for the Karō-yashiki (Chief Vassal's Residence). To the right, passing by a small valley, there is a path which climbs onto the ridge. Here there is a series of earthworks, such as terraces and embankments, which represent the former kyokan area of the castle, or the place that the castellan would actually reside when not under siege.

After a brief climb up the ridge we reach the ruins of the castle proper. There are six baileys in an "L" formartion which follow the natural contours of the terrain. The lowest, perhaps the sixth bailey, has some terracing along the approach and a modern gazebo structure. Higher up is the next bailey which is treated as the main bailey by the local education board since this is where we find marker posts, explanation boards and a general sense of maintenance (the tattered board at the bottom of the ridge has been amended but not repaired to include the new village authority of "Chikuhoku" but the sign board at the castle itself still reads "Honjō Village"). Yet this bailey is the lower than the subsequent baileys; counting backwards from the topmost it would be the fifth. It has forward facing terraces and what I think may have been a koshikuruwa ("hip baileys") on the south side. Beneath the bailey rocky outcroppings produce a sort of natural wall to the bailey's south side.

Between the fifth and fourth bailey I noticed what looked like the remains of a trench and earthen bridge (but it was not shown on the map I was referencing). The ridgeline sweeps up again and we come to the fourth bailey with the third immediately above it. These baileys are barely worked, having been only somewhat flattened if at all (it's hard to tell what work the mountain has done in five centuries) without terraces or trenches, and may be described as "natural baileys". Indeed, Higashijōjō makes splendid use of augmented natural terrain. There are a tremendous amount of rocks and boulders here. Beneath the third bailey there is a collection of rocks which form a path in the vague shape of a castle's koguchi ("tiger's maw gate"). The bailey itself is full of small but sturdy pine trees growing out of white sand like a bonsai arrangement. It seemed to me like a natural garden, and the rocky landscape offered thrills which reminded me of the pleasure gardens of Sūzhōu.

Between the third and second bailey several large boulders stand, and between three of them are sudden drops or chutes along the ridge which look like they could've been used as climbing trenches. There is an unworked peak at the top of the castle mount, a place where several large pines stand called Pine Path, and to the south at a right angle are the first and second baileys. These have a well preserved (albeit difficult to photograph because of the trees) horikiri (trench) with a dorui (earthen embankment) protecting the first bailey. The first bailey has some terraces beneath it. Though slightly narrower than the fifth bailey, it seems this may have been the main bailey, or at least the last line of defence. The trail leading down from here takes one to Hakusan-jinja, a shrine built beneath a series of gigantic boulders forming a cliff. I saw a cave in one of the rocks, and when I bent down to peer inside a snake slithered out. Higashijōjō is a blend of nature and castle ruins!
Hime Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩姫城

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To get to Chikuma-Himejō I went up the slope directly until I came across a trail which took me the rest of the way. The site of this yamajiro (mountaintop castle) is now that of a pylon. It may seem that there are no ruins, but approaching from below it looks like dorui (earthen ramparts) surrounding a bailey. The peak has been carved (kirigishi) and rendered steep. Beneath the ramparts is a narrow lip like a ring bailey. In the middle of the ramparts where the trail runs is a gap which may have been the site of a gate. Beneath here is what looks like a climbing trench. All of these features are better appreciated approaching from below from the direction of the Yamanokami Nature Park. I could not discern much on the otherside of the fort. The contours of the fort may have eroded with time or been disturbed when the pylon was constructed. This site is quite minor and should probably only be visited (if at all) as part of a wider exploration of the Iinawajō complex of fortifications. Himejō is definitely the type of site where the effort is its own reward .
Himuro Yakata / 氷室館

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The site of Himuro-yakata is now that of a shrine and abandoned rural homestead. Whilst the property is abandoned, I did not want to trespass, and so I have no idea whether I missed any clues about the yakata in the dense foliage there. I report no remains.
Hiraide Moated Settlement / 平出環濠集落

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Hiraide is an archaeological site and National Historic Site in Shiojiri Municipality. The site was inhabited for thousands of years and many pit homes from various time periods have been excavated. Many structures, such as pit homes and storehouses, have been reconstructed. The reconstructions are grouped by historical period, and each period has its own area, but historically areas inhabited overlapped throughout the whole site.

There is an information centre in the park, which is like an outdoor museum. Ruins of ancient burial mounds are also dotted around. The castle enthusiast will note the unmistakable remains of dorui (earthen ramparts) and moats surrounding the site. The remains around the reconstructed Kofun Period village are least obvious, forming a sort of raised platform above surrounding vineyards, though likely there were originally moats dug here. The most significant remains zigzag in angled fashion around a portion of the restored Jōmon Period village. Another stretch of ramparts and moat trace around the reconstructed Heain Period village, taking an obtuse angle. These fortifications likely date to the same period and were maintained throughout.

The modern village of Hiraide is built up to the south of the site, and itself contains many beautiful traditional homes. Where the foothills start beyond here is nestled the Hiraide Museum. This area features a climbing kiln and a reconstruction of a Nara Period pit home. The museum exhibits many artifacts. The highlight is a Nara Period ceramic pagoda.
Hirakura Castle / 平倉城

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Hirakurajō's castle mount is an intimidating prospect. The trail to the peak is found in a high climbing valley to the east, a valley replete with old thatched roof (now mostly covered) cottages, a scene of great age, isolated and barbarous. To the west the mount has a sheer, rocky cliff face. One must absolutely climb from the east, far from the station but a short detour from the Salt Road. The trail, found at the top of a small hamlet, is well maintained. A resident asked me where I was going. There was a sharpness to the end of her question which suggested very much like she had every right to know. I suppose she did, as the trail entrance was behind her house. I gave the name of the castle like a password and she let me on my way, wishing me be safe. And so the castle site is still closely guarded to this day. The layout of Hirakurajō, sometimes also called Otarijō, is like a hillside castle, despite being quite high up on the mountain, as the largest baileys are terraced, and the principal two sit one after the other, carved into the mountainside. There is an explanation board about the castle in the lower enclosure. Actually I had to re-orientate parts of it that had fallen flat into the earth. According to one sign there used to be a small shrine here, but it's gone now. The lower enclosure is accessed via a gate ruin with embankments. The peak is not far above. This peak has many horikiri (trenches). The forward horikiri is very clear as it cuts sharply into rock, which was impressive to behold. Going along the narrow peak, where I suppose there was some kind of look-out, I found several more horikiri. To find these I had to wade through many bushes. In one part the ridge was so narrow and seemed to be nothing more than a tangle of roots, to each side an uninviting drop. I photographed these trenches by crawling through bushes. Other bloggers hadn't mentioned these so I was quite proud of myself for finding them.
Hora Yakata / 洞館

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The site of Hora-yakata, a medieval fortified manor house, is recorded in the Shinputōki. The area is now a farmstead. It's possible that the terraces date to the time of the yakata. However, the site is on private property so I couldn't get a good look. There is a single road which goes up to the house on the hillside..
Horinouchi Yashiki / 堀内屋敷


Happily the Edo Period yashiki, constructed in the vernacular architecture of the Chikuma District, the honmuneźukuri style, in the late 18th century, remains to this day. The yashiki’s imposing kabukimon gate is kept open so that visitors can appreciate the exterior of the omoya (main hall). It’s also possible to peer into the structure in some places. This fine old residence with an omoya and other surrounding structures is designated as Important Cultural Property.
Jikouin Yakata / 慈光院館

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Jikōin-yakata is actually a small complex of fortifications at the foot of the castle mount of Iinawajō. A series of now forested terraces are the former site of a fortified manor house. There are the remains of several karabori (dry moats). Slightly above the temple Jikōin, where the site gets it (anachronistic) name, next to the rail road, was a fortified bailey space. Here dorui (earthen ramparts) can still be discerned.

Update (2022):

I felt like I didn’t do a thorough enough job of exploring this site during my first visit. Most of the ruins are in a forest to the east of the temple Jikōin, for which the site is named. There is also a fort site to the west of the temple which I wanted to check out called Jikouin Fort. I took the opportunity to revisit here, and this time checked further up the slope, finding several bands of terracing and a long karabori (dry moat) beneath what I took to be the yakata’s main enclosure.
Jinguuji Yakata / 神宮寺館


Jingūji-yakata is a former medieval fortified manor hall site which is now the site of a temple, Jingūji. The temple is a hidden gem! It features (tasteful) modern takes on traditional art forms, and has a dry landscape garden with broad veranda not unlike one might see at famous temples in Kyōto. I found no traces of the yakata, unfortunately, though I tried to get a sense of the lay of the terrain. I quickly became occupied by the idyllic temple.
Joukouin Yakata / 城光院館


Jōkōin-yakata is now the site of Jōkōin for which it is named. It’s a fine temple with ishigaki and walls not unlike a castle, I suppose, and one part even has an angled entrance with a gate, a configuration which possibly originated with the yakata (fortified manor hall).
Kakiage Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩掻揚城

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Kakiagejō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin with earthworks and masonry ruins. Defences include horikiri (trenches) and three tatebori (climbing trenches) streaking down the mountainside. There is a small lesser bailey between two larger trenches but Kakiagejō is a fort made up of only one principal bailey complex, though terracing beneath the main bailey is extensive with up to fifteen bands, particularly to the northeast, which is where I ascended the mountain. Since there is no trail, I just clambered up on my hands and feet (using gloves). What a way to shake off the New Year rut! It was fun but tiring. Kakiagejō also has the remains of stone walls around the main bailey, and there are stone blocks indicative of fallen masonry strewn all about the central part of the fort. 'Kakiage' is a curious name. Nowadays most people will think of tempura, but a 'kakiagejiro' historically describes a simple fort made from piling up earth. This seems then like quite a generic name, and it is the castle's principal name, but it had others, including Hofukujijō (保福寺城)(after the settlement below), Miatejō (見当城), and Kakeǵāgejō / Kakegamijō (掛ヶ上城), which I'm probably not rendering properly but which also seems to describe a type of construction method. 'Kakiage' may in any case be something of a misnomer because although the castle is small its builders went to the trouble of piling stones for stolid walls, though perhaps these were an upgrade to the fort at a later date.
Kattori Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩川鳥城

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Descending from Kiridōzan toward the town of Ono took me to the ruins of Chikuma-Kattorijō. A pylon has been constructed here, complicating my inspection. There is a single bailey of this fort, and what looks like dorui to the rear. There is a small explanation board.
Kemi Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩花見城

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Kemijō consists of two principal baileys, with the second directly below the first on the south side. On the ridge which climbs towards the castle mount there are a series of peaks which may have been auxiliary baileys of the castle - but it's hard to tell.
Kibune Castle / 木舟城

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Kibunejō is a vast site. It is an Sengoku period earthworks mountaintop castle site with many features such as horikiri (trenches), dorui (earthen ramparts), kuruwa (baileys), koshikuruwa (sub-baileys), dan-kuruwa (terraced baileys which climb ridges in stair-like fashion), and so on. Kibunejō is in many ways an exemplary yamajiro, and in others quite unique. Initially it is necessary to remark upon its size, as Kibunejō is one of Nagano Prefecture's largest yamajiro ruins. The castle can be rougly divided into two areas, the south and north castle, though the mountaintop is worked contiguously without any gaps in defences. It also has seven spurs of developed ridges, making the layout of the castle not unlike a squid with many grasping tentacles.

I mounted the ridge behind a temple called Jōfukuji and very quickly came upon evidence of terracing along it. I knew for sure I was on the right track when I encountered a small horikiri. Thereafter the ridge swept up quite drastically and with it came a marvellous climbing set of stair-like pocket baileys terracing the ridge with steep banks. At the top of these stairs is a complex of baileys. Three baileys are set in a row, one above the other, and the lowest of these is quite wide. To the south there is dorui with the remains of stone pilings scattered about, suggesting the use of some stonework. Beneath here is a spur along a lower ridge, which I did not look all of the way down (this castle ruin was too vast for me to cover every inch in just a few hours), though Yogo's map indicates there should be more baileys down here and a trench. The upper and middle bailey in this bailey group are impressive, and on the mountainside west of the upper terrace there is a large embankment or levelled peak which it is easy to imagine hosted a rudimentary tower or turret of some sort.

Already we can say that this would be about the size of a modest yamajiro by itself, but this is just the very doorstep of Kibunejō! Another bailey grouping, but taller and wider, with another large rear embankment is found following a deep moat, in turn another large trench beyond. I was staggered by this duplication of fortifications, but thereafter the castle widens out dramatically into a series of wide and long terraced baileys in between climbing ramparts. If barracks were built here they could've easily accomodated hundreds of men. This fascinating area, which Master Yogo describes like a "hinadan (doll stand)", unusual in its configuration for a mountaintop castle, is known as the otenjō (written as 御天上・御殿上), invoking the idea of a place of paramount importance. Actually I wondered how these terms might be related to tenshu (天守), getting me onto an etymological side quest...

The formation of this staggering array of earth is like the throne of a titan carved into the mountain. The amount of earth dug, moved, piled and flattened is mind-blowing. The surrounding countryside must've been denuded of able-bodied men to sculpt this abode of the gods.

A series of karabori (dry moats) and dorui interspersing yet more wide baileys gives way to what is considered the northern castle. The scenery is changed completely and we come into an area with ongoing forestry projects. A pylon sits on the hillside. The terracing here was either degraded, obscurred with recent activities, or never completed. Or some combination of those things. But above this terracing is a solid bailey complex. This area is sometimes considered the main bailey of the castle, surmounting the ultimate peak. The earthworks here are impressive. The bailey has dorui and is protected on three sides by deep horikiri. The easterly horikiri could swallow a house, and several trenches go off along a spur there; these were on my way to Aokijō and so I could check them all out.

To the north and northwest the extent of the site then doubles. After all that, there's so much more! How much of the mountain could possibly have been fortified? There is a bailey cluster to the north with some nice trenches along the site's most northerly spur. In general though the earthworks are less capably finished in these outer zones of the castle. It seems that the northern castle represents a later expansion which may not have been wholly finished. Indeed this site has many mysteries. Curiously this fascinating castle is little regarded, and until recently seems to have been completely forgotten, and has no designations or protections, which is very concerning. However, I am happy to report that newly minted signs indicating castle features have appeared throughout the site, and there is a sign pointing would-be adventurers in the direction of the castle from below near Jōfukuji. This is good news and tides that the ruins of Kibunejō may get more care and attention in the future.
Kiridouzan Noroshidai / 霧訪山狼煙台

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From the Yamanokami Nature Park the peak of Kiridōzan takes about an hour and a half to climb to. I ascended after having already come back down from the site of Himejō. The trail is easy to follow. It has many switchbacks. Near the top of the trail is a very steep section where the path splits into two. The steeper slope is called "man's slope" and the gentler, weaving path is called "woman's slope". Well, I may be comfortably masculine enough to order a barcadi mohito from a pretty barmaid, but I wasn't going to let the mountain emasculate me, and so I took the man's slope at a gambol. The view from the top is stunning. There used to be a fortified signal tower on this peak. There was a fellow up there doing something with radios; he seemed like an amateur enthusiast. I suppose there are lots of reasons to climb mountains. Here I made a start on my provisions, which consisted of bacon-flavoured poppiri.
Kirihara Yakata / 桐原館


No obvious ruins remain of the fortified manor hall of the Kirihara Clan, and the site is now a winery, vinyards and rice paddies.
Koshikou Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩古司口城

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Koshikōjō is a remarkable if mysterious ruin. The former castle later became a religious site, and most of the ruins date to this time rather than to the original fortification. Nonetheless it's quite the spectacle. There is a long flat area along the ridge. Although there are no obvious castle features here, it could've been used as a bailey. The ridge rises after this and there is a sign post at the peak to mark the castle. This whole area is covered in fallen masonry. All of the stone blocks make traversing the site quite hazardous. Toward the tip of the site, beneath the peak with its impressive boulders, is a stone-walled enclosure in a half-oval shape. There is a gap at the prow where a gate likely stood. These stone walls are fantastic to behold, but they apparently were piled for the use of a shrine. I wondered if the stones had been repurposed from the castle, and if they had been hewn on site. Although there are castle sites not unlike this, a close look at the structure and piling method of these cryptic ramparts shows that they were not built chiefly with defence in mind. Koshikōjō, which sits 150m up, can be easily accessed via a forestry road. I climbed up the mountain from below without a trail - but it wasn't so steep - until I reached the road. In my initial report of this site I said that the stone walls reminded me of Matsuojō. It seems that Nagano-based castle-blogger Ranmaru(-sensei) had the same feeling! He reports in his blog, here:
Motai Castle (Hanishina) / 埴科母袋城


Motaijō is a basic single bailey fort with trenches to the forward and aft. The ridge is piled high before the bailey, and to the rear the trenches are deeper, which is typical. Motaijō shares its unusual name with a large kofun (ancient burial mound) ruin on the peak above. The kofun is essentially the domed peak itself, which is quite interesting. The kofun is located between Motaijō and Kurahonejō. I climbed over the kofun but there is a narrow path which by-passes it on the way to Kurahonejō, so one can avoid marching up and down the kofun that way.
Moto Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩本城

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The ruins of Chikuma-Motojō have become distorted with time and decay. It appears that landslides have significantly altered the shape of the castle mount. A thin ridge connects the upper and lower castle sites. The upper has no bailey, probably effaced by the movements of the mountain, but has an intriguing complex of trenches, earthen ramparts and dry moats protecting the rear of the castle. The lower castle has large earthen ramparts which partially ensconce two principal baileys, with a third smaller bailey situated beneath them. Yet there are no trenches here. Beneath this area there is a flat area without defences which forms part of a wide ridge. Where was the main bailey of this castle? Why do the larger flattened areas have the least defences? It’s quite the mystery, but historic landslides would be one solution to the problem. Some smaller ditches can be found at the base of the mountain with old fence posts driven into the piled earth above. This looks like a mini castle ruin, but in fact it represents old defences erected by villagers to repel wild animals like boars and bears.
Narukami Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩鳴雷城

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The ruins of Chikuma-Narukamijō consist of earthworks, including trenches and baileys. Approaching from the direction of Tokô village the ruins unfold thusly: a sub-bailey is apparent beneath the earthen ramparts of the main bailey. The ramparts are steep. In the middle is a stairway. A gate would've stood here. The main bailey, large and flat, now encompasses a shrine. The earth beneath the shrine's kami house is raised slightly. To the left the castle ruins continue (there may be an additional spur of ruins to the right but it was too overgrown for me to tell). Here there are terraced sub-baileys in a step-like configuration. Two sub-baileys each have what I'm fairly sure are well ruins in. After these is a shallow trench, but on the castle side it is deep due to shifting elevation. There were probably more small, terraced micro baileys beneath this but the ground has reverted to a slope now. At the bottom of this slope is a very well worked trench cutting, a horikiri, dug deep into the mountain ridge, and this marks the end of the castle ruins proper. After that there are some more signs of the mountain being worked, such as possible climbing trenches - on one sideof the mountain only - as well as more pits where wells were likely dug. Usually I refer to some kind of map but I could find none for this site; I've since sketched my own for reference (from memory; not on site).

From Tokô village there is a well developed hiking trail which leads to the peak of Narukami. It's not possible to get lost. I saw many harvestmen during the hike up. Where I'm from we call these arachnids 'daddy long legs' but some people use that term to refer to craneflies or certain types of spiders. These creatures are not well loved, but the Japanese kind is particularly creepy because two of its forward legs are extra long, terminating in hair-like extremities which it apparently uses to feel its way about. I saw one bobbing up and down in an evil dance which appeared to aid in devouring something it had caught in its chelates.

There are two signs which may cause confusion. The first is at the base of the mountain. One sign points up to the mountain on the left, and the other to some place else: Ôte-something. Ôte refers to the main gate of a castle, but I took the left route and I don't recommend going right as it will go some place else before going to the castle ruin. The second confusing sign is not far below the castle. It says 'Ôyokote (大横手)', which maybe refers to "the side entrance" to the castle ruins, but it isn't a proper castle term I think. I chose to ignore it and took a smaller trail which went directly to the castle ruins via the ridgeline and comes out at the main bailey. One can follow the sign for an easier trail; it comes out at the castle's horikiri, and from there the rest of the ruins are to the right.
Nishijou Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩西條城

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The trail to the ruins of Nishijōjō begin at the top of a small road which dips beneath the motorway. It's easy enough to follow the trail once one finds it. It is to the left of a pass through the ridge. Another trail which becomes a footpath before it goes beneath the motorway and ascends is located in Onikuma village. I'd recommend going down the Onikuma way and not up since it is much steeper with a difficult path and many hairpins. The first ruins one sees of Nishijōjō coming from the rear are a series of tripple trenches at a right angle to the castle proper which protect a westerly ridge. Nishijōjō ("West District Castle") is twinned with Higashijōjō ("East District Castle") on the other side of the valley and so the defence is orientated facing away from the valley. The castle proper is made up of six integral baileys which line the ridge running north-south. There is terracing beneath the topmost shukuruwa (main bailey), also west-facing, but it was too overgrown for me to explore down there. Much of the castle is covered in young bamboo, but the path winds its way through. The baileys basically work their way down from the shukuruwa in stair-like fashion, with the exception that the third bailey, having its own small peak, is wholly surrounded by the fourth bar on the east-facing cliff face. At the bottom of this fortified stairway a respectably deep trench was dug. The trail out of the castle ruin can be found here. The trench itself is probably the most significant feature of the castle, along with the tripple trench system mentioned above.
Saburouhora Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩三郎洞城

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There is nothing to see. The site is mentioned on the explanation board for Kattorijō, albeit not as a castle itself. Some sources list it as a castle, and some simply list it without a suffix. Given its location in or near a small valley beneath taller peaks, it may have been a fortified residence. The site is now that of a weir. Below is farmland.
Samine Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩三峯城

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Saminejō has a very simple layout with a narrow profile straddling the ridgeline. There are two trenches on the mountainside rear of the castle which protect two principal baileys linked by an earthen bridge. Beyond the second bailey are more trenches and a couple of tertiary baileys. A fallen tree leans out over the final bailey. Climbing along it a little gave me a nice view of the castle mount. Saminejō is located above Sasanojō and served as its branch fort. At a right angle to that fort it juts out to the west from the main ridgeline which is also a municipal border.
Saruga Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩猿ヶ城


Saruǵajō ('Monkey Castle') is a castle ruin set amidst breathtaking mountain scenery. At the beginning of the ruins from the trail is a towering pinnacle of rock called Sarutobi-iwa (Monkey Jump Rock). There is a small tree atop which makes it look like a bonsai arrangement. Legend goes that the column of rock got its name after the castle fell under siege and, when the end was inevitable, a princess threw herself from the pinnacle in suicide.

Why was a castle called for a monkey? The answer is in the castle's remote and inaccessible location; that is, you'd need to be a monkey to get to it, or climb into it. There is no need for elaborate stone walls at this altitude; the mountain provides the sheerest rocks and boulders as an instantaneously defensible position. These natural ramparts are augmented with horikiri (trenches) and a series of flattened areas for baileys. The main bailey is set just above Sarutobi-iwa, and there is a long bailey complex that follows the ridge beyond, with a terraced sub-bailey below. Some earth is piled up here too, which looks like dorui (earthen ramparts), but it may be yet another gift from the mountain which the intrepid castle builders incorporated into their base.

This site is not to be confused with Saruga Castle (Azumi), also in Nagano / Shinano.
Sasaga Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩笹城

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The ruins of Sasaǵajō consist of a series of baileys grouped together in a shape like an old galleon, the stern and bow elevated above a shallower central area. In this case the stern would be the main bailey, as that's where the marker for the castle is, and the second bailey is the depression in the middle of it and the third. The second bailey is the flattest and widest. At the rear of the fort are the remains of a trench. There is a forward bailey complex, the fourth bailey which has terracing below, though this is a very small space (a hokora (mini-shrine) is here). Sasaǵajō can be readily accessed by car, since there is a retaining wall by the motorway with a staircase running up the side of it and this can be used to access the ridge. However, on foot I can't say! I began by coming down a series of old mountain roads which used to service a village built on the mountainside. Many of the houses here are now abandoned and the roads disused, but they were quite convenient for me. I couldn't see how I would get to the trail to Sasaǵajō so I climbed over a wier (凹 < of this shape) and assaulted the castle head-on, which is always silly really. After some tough climbing I made it to the castle ruins.
Sasano Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩佐々野城

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Sasanojō is a curious ruin indeed. There is a principal bailey which is not so large but is typical of a mountainfort. To the north it is protected by a series of horikiri (trenches cut into the ridge). To the west is another series of trenches in similar fashion. To the south there is a narrow ridge. Beneath this ridge is a series of small baileys divided by karabori (dry moats) and dorui (earthen ramparts). To the south of here is a very interesting feature in the form of the umaya no kubo (stables pit). This area for keeping horses is formed from natural terrain, a sunken area surrounded on three sides by the encircling ridgeline, perhaps the remnants of a landslide. It's likely the bottom of this depression was flattened to create a bailey-like space well sheltered from without. To the north of the castle proper is a series of what looks like a row of yokobori (lateral trenches) and dorui. It's not clear to what extent these formations are man-made; I can't imagine how natural movements of the earth would've created them, but I'm not an expert in such a field. Perhaps the castle builders augmented the natural terrain to create a series of funnels. If so then this defensive feature is quite unlike any I've seen before.
Sasazawa Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩笹沢城

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Sasazawajō ("Bamboo Creek Castle") is an earthworks yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin with remnants of kuruwa (baileys), dorui (earthen ramparts) and horikiri (trenches dividing the ridge). There is a main bailey where there is an old marker post for the castle, with a koshikuruwa (sub-bailey) directly beneath. Descending the ridge here we find traces of horikiri in several places. There are some more baileys as the ridge climbs gradually up, and the topmost is divided by what looks like some interesting trenches in an irregular forked configuration. I kept on going up just to be sure not to miss anything and found a cleared space with an abandoned pigsty. I'm told that when domesticated pigs become feral they revert into boars but I don't know how true that is; perhaps they need to grow coats if they don't have a sty to shelter in! The ridge ends in a plateau which is used as farmland. It was starting to get dark by this point so I quickly descended the mountain. To access Sasazawajō one finds the trail over a river behind what used to be Gojō Elementary School. There is some terracing between the trailhead and the main bailey. Near the start of the trail is a wide flattened area which used to be a place for cultivating shiitake mushrooms but is now completely overgrown and covered in moss like a swamp. Yet this suspiciously flat area may have been where the castle's kyokan was situated. A kyokan is the residential area of a yamajiro where the castellan would've lived during peacetime. Sasazawajō is not to be confused with nearby Sasaǵajō or Sasanojō.
Takeyama Castle (Hanishina) / 埴科竹山城


Takeyamajō has bands of ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts) supporting terraced baileys. There is lots of ishigaki remaining around the main bailey and below where the bamboo forest is. Takeyamajō was renovated by the Takeda and the pleasing form of the castle dates to this time. There are two principal baileys, the ichinokuruwa (first bailey) and ninokuruwa (second bailey), of which the latter is largest in area. The ninokuruwa terminates at the bow in a platform of earth was used either as a base for a turret or for a signal tower. The main bailey complex has many sub-baileys terracing the mountainside below. A series of climbing sub-baileys terraced the elevation between the ninokuruwa and ichinokuruwa. Ishigaki is found all around the ichinokuruwa, but particularly to the mountainside rear where the sub-baileys are narrower and longer. The ruins of Takeyamajō are interesting and I'd recommend visiting for yamajiro (mountaintop castle) fans who visit Matsushirojō.
Uchi Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩内城


The former centre of Uchijō is located adjacent to the Horinōchi-yashiki and is today completely developed over with residential structures and vegetable patches, and so unfortunately no ruins remains of the medieval fort. See: Horinouchi Yashiki.
Uzuhashi Castle (Azumi) / 安曇埋橋城

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Little remains of Uzuhashijō, a fort built along the Salt Road, which ran from the Nunakawa (Itoigawa) area on the Japan Sea into the interior via northwest Shinano (Nagano). The name of the castle is marked differently on local brochures, but since they never bother to supply the reading (there are many possible variations, you see), I'm going to call the site Uzuhashijō since this is how I saw it listed originally. Uzuhashi is the name of the abandoned hamlet along the Salt Road (actually a dirt path) south of the fort site. The fort should be visited by following the Salt Road (Shio no Michi) trail. Because the site of the fort was cultivated subsequently, it's hard to tell what earthworks may relate to it; there are several embankments but they are probably just for terraced fields. However, the two embankments flanking eitherside of the road as it climbs between them is quite suggestive of where a gate and palisades would've stood. There is a marker for the castle here. If one follows a path to the left just before these ramparts one will find an earthen wier with a pond above it. There is a sharp rise in the earth at the end of this structure. This called me to it. When I climbed up some steps carved into the mud I found another marker for the castle, this one of wood and much older. Above was a mountain ridge climbing upward. Was it fortified? Building a fort directly below elevation is asking for trouble... But it seems Uzuhashijō's chief role was to protect the road and act as a checkpoint. The site today is seeded forest and muddy fields of reeds.
Wada Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩和田城

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Of Wadajō there's no ruins to see but since the weather was nice I cycled here after work. The site is now fields and rice paddies.
Yagura Castle (Chikuma) / 筑摩矢倉城

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Yagurajō can be found atop of a 120m tall hill overlooking the hamlet of Yagura beneath the Murosawa Dam. It is a small but accessible yamajiro earthworks ruin with a narrow profile. The hiking trail is well maintained as a long set of stairs, and there is a sign at the bottom. This will be easy, I thought, seeing this, but it looks like the site, though generally maintained, does not get many visitors, and consequently in order to reach the castle I had to battle my way through a dozen spider webs which blocked the path (I employed a branch with leaves on). The castle is made up of baileys along the ridge. The two principal baileys are separated by a trench. The trench is higher on the main bailey's side. The main bailey also has a large platform at the rear which may have been used to site a watch tower. Beneath this berm is a deep trench. Several more trenches can be found along the ridge to the mountainward rear of the castle. Yagurajō further features terraced areas, some minor baileys, earthen bridges and climbing trenches which streak down the hillside. It's pretty much a standard example of a Sengoku period fort.
Yamazaki Fort (Chikuma) / 筑摩山崎砦

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Yamazaki-toride is a small fort on the edge of a mountain directly opposite Asakajō. Toride means "small fort". There are the remains of a respectable horikiri (trench), and a single bailey complex with a central enclosure ringed by an obikuruwa (belt bailey). I also noticed pits which were likely the remains of wells. It's not much but honestly not all that disappointing for a toride ruin either! The ruin sits above a shrine. The path to the shrine goes through a cluster of old homes which are all abandoned, the site of Yoshiike Awaji Yashiki.
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